Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Emma Reviews Ninth Life

***Free author giveaway***  Please comment in the Comments below or on the Facebook  The Review Blog Page to be in the draw for a free copy of Ninth Life.

The Ninth Life

If you enjoy the crime mystery thriller genre, then this will most definitely  be a good read  for  you,  - even  if one of the opening viewpoints is from the Voice inside the head of the  protagonist!   Confused?  You won’t be …

The story is cleverly written in the sense the author has achieved something different.  Not easy to do these days but a joy to discover when you find it.  The whole book keeps the protagonist - hereafter called Kate   - centre stage whilst keeping the tension, the what-the-hell-happens-next  thread, going from beginning to end.

There is the Voice inside Kate’s head that is her instinct, her sub-conscious speaking  to  her to the point where the reader begins to wonder if Kate has mental health issues.  Actually, it doesn’t take long  to realise we’ve all got that Voice rattling around in our  consciousness at some point or other and this leads onto the reader  being in Kate’s head; her emotions become your emotions, her fears are palpable.  

The antagonist, Jack, is Kate’s ex-husband  and pure evil.   He makes his  entry early (Chapter Two) and really gave me the creeps.  Not only does Kate have health issues (the story opens with her having a  a heart attack),  but also has serial killer issues  with Jack - he’s hiding in the hospital Kate is taken to.  Nine lives indeed.  By the end of Chapter Two, you maybe asking yourself how the tension can last until the end, but it does.  Especially when the few  close people around her start  to be murdered …

The violence is minimal and ingeniously written.  There is some descriptive writing, obviously for the genre, but it is not over-gratuitous and brings out the empathy for Kate as well as those around her.  The following is from a scene where Jack had realised one of Kate's neighbours had noticed him hanging around and he managed to get into the neighbour's flat:

"He closed his eyes and lifted her head away from the blue patterned lino.  Her hands were clutching desperately at his sleeves, fluttering like baby bird's wings.  He thought of Kate and how much he missed her; the familiar mist seeped into his brain as he pounded the old woman's head against the floor repeatedly until her eyes closed and she stopped breathing. He left her lying there and went back to his van."

And there you have it.  The author keeps the mystery, the thrill right up there, weaving in and out of every word you read.  The characters that are vital to Kate’s story come to your attention so 
subtlety until suddenly, you wonder how they got there.  And how long they may last!

Whilst I felt the conclusion to The Ninth Life ended a tad too soon - I would have enjoyed a more drawn-out scene for the climax  - this does not deviate from the overall enjoyment of the book.   And besides, Kate’s story is a trilogy, thankfully. Book Two - The Last Life - picks  up and carries yet another tension-riddled read around Kate and her struggles.  Watch out for the review of  The Last  Life in the not-too-distant-future. 

As soon as I've completed Book 3 of the Trilogy, The Broken Life, I'll be posting about that too.


Look out for an Author Interview on the Blog with Jaye Marie shortly!

Jaye Marie’s blog and Facebook page as well as the link to The Ninth Life  can be found via  the links below.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Diana talks to ... Sharon Bennett Connolly

Hi Sharon, we have known each other for ages but have never really talked about your work. I was delighted that Amberley asked you to write this book about Mediaeval Heroines. After following your blog, History - the Interesting Bits, I know they could not have chosen a better person to champion the lesser known women of this time.

If your latest book Heroines of the Medieval World was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

I guess it would be a documentary, so maybe Judy Dench presenting my Medieval Heroines? Or Helen Mirren. Dr Janina Ramirez would be fabulous – she’s so enthusiastic. And it would be nice to do something with Amy Licence - maybe she and I could co-present (I can dream). Although, having said that, Amy has a much better voice for television than me – I’ll probably just stand in the background trying to look intelligent.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I would love to write a novel; I do have one in mind. Set in the 5/6th century, based on Ambrosius Aurelianus as King Arthur and set in my ‘home’ castle at Conisbrough. But we’ll have to see how I go. Maybe once ‘Heroines’ is published….

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I can’t stand writing in total silence. I have to have the radio on – or something. If its music, it will be Bryan Adams or the Eagles. If it’s Radio then it tends to be Radio 2, but there has to be something in the background (even if it’s my son’s Xbox)

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I wouldn’t like to say - don’t want to upset anyone. I used to insist on reading books to the end – even ones I didn’t find enjoyable. But these days I’ve decided there are too many books and so little time, so now if a book doesn’t keep me interested I stop reading. The last one was a story about Lancelot which had too many Arthurian inaccuracies for me to find it believable and the plot was too linear, you always knew what was going to happen next.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Owning and managing a castle – not just being a tour guide, but organising hands-on events, and ‘living in the medieval era’ weekends (although I think I would still want electricity, hot water and a working shower). I’ve got a feeling my son would love giving the guided tours too – he would certainly love living in a castle (as long as it has a resident dragon). My husband would probably be happy with it, but only if there is fibre broadband.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Black coffee, white wine.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I like the simple fonts like calibri, but it would be interesting to read a book in an old-fashioned, italic font, just once in a while, wouldn’t it?

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

A confession from whoever killed – or ordered the deaths of – the Princes in the Tower. And an explanation of how it was done. Even if it turned out to be Richard III – it would stop most of the arguments on Facebook in an instant…. Or would it?  (No. They would still argue and (ahem) he would get bail!!)

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
I can’t do this with non-fiction, but I do have problems where we don’t know the actual facts, or a source was writing with an agenda, and I have to present all the theories and then choose the one that I think most likely and explain why.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Because I’m writing a non-fiction book you would expect not, wouldn’t you? But there are instances when you find that the facts are, in fact, different to the accepted ones; that a historical person’s character has been changed or exaggerated by the chroniclers. I think this happens a lot with women, especially when the chroniclers tended to be men – and monks at that! Many didn’t like women and blamed them for the ills of the world.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I find some of my Heroines more sympathetic than others, but I am trying to keep an open mind about all of them. I think they all deserve their stories telling in a sensitive light. The 2 that stick in my mind are Katherine Swynford and Alice Perrers; they were contemporaries and yet Katherine’s story is seen as true love and Alice is vilified as self-seeking and money-grabbing.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Historical fiction – Bernard Cornwell is my all-time favourite, but I have discovered some fabulous authors in recent years; Paula Lofting, Derek Birks, Toby Clements. I also love archaeological thrillers like Andy McDermott and David Gibbons, combining history and action.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

Ooh, I don’t know. I think you’ll probably need to keep a clear head while reading it, so a nice cappuccino and a slice of cake would probably be the ideal refreshement.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Bernard Cornwell for fiction, I’ve been a fan of his books since I was 12 and love the fact he releases one every year, just in time for my birthday. The hubby ALWAYS knows what present to get.

I like Amy Licence for non-fiction – she writes in such an accessible way, almost as if she’s sat talking to you in your living room.

 Bio: Sharon has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied history as part of her Class 2:1 BA (Hons) Combined Degree and has also worked as a tour guide at historical sites.

She has been writing a blog entitled ‘History… the Interesting Bits’ for almost two years and is currently writing a book entitled ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ which is due for release in 2017, concentrating on the lesser known – but no less significant women and their contributions to medieval history.

© Diana Milne July 2016 © (Sharon Bennett Connolly, August 2016)

The Old Straight Tracks

Ley lines… You probably scoff at such things, as if it’s some new age pseudoscience spoken of by hippies on the festival trail in the seventies, but indulge me. For this post I want you to suspend your sense of disbelief for a short while, to open your mind to the possibility that perhaps our reality is not entirely as we have been programmed to perceive it. What if there is a mystery hidden in plain sight before us? Something so glaringly obvious and yet suppressed so that belief in it became of the realm of the unhinged?  (You’ll be pleased to know I don’t intend on going down some strange 1970’s avenue to link leylines to UFO’s – I may believe in fairies but I’m not entirely away with them! )

We humans like to see patterns in things, whether it’s making a familiar shape from the randomness of clouds, measuring the movement of the heavens as some form of clock or creating a face where there is none. Mere coincidence perhaps; however what if a coincidence keeps recurring?

The term “ley line” was coined by English amateur archaeologist, author and antiquarian Alfred Watkins, in 1921, who noticed that it is possible to draw a straight line on a map linking stone circles, burial mounds, geological features, churches and even crossroads. He used the term ley* lines but preferred to describe them as archaic roads or old straight tracks.  *Ley – OE for a clearing in a forest.
Alfred Watkins

Watkins wasn’t the first to notice alignments in the ancient landscape: In the 1740’s Dr William Stuckley proposed that there was an ancient geometric druidic pattern across the country. During the 1800’s William Black who made a study of Roman roads proposed that major landmarks were linked by grand geometric lines. However the suspicion of their existence precedes these dates and can be seen in different cultures: In Ireland there are “Fairy paths”, in Germany” Heilige Linien” (Holy Lines), in Peru “Spirit Lines”, in China “Dragon Lines” and “Song Paths” in the Australian Aborigine tradition. It was Watkins who first listed a guide for possible ley markers:

Mounds, Long-barrows, Cairns, Cursus, Dolmens, Standing stones, mark-stones, Stone circles, Henges, Water-markers (moats, ponds, springs, fords, wells), Castle, Beacon-hills, Churches, Cross-roads, Notches in hills, Camps (Hill-forts).”

To Watkins these lines were primarily for navigation across the once densely forested British landscape, providing a line of sight between prominent features, such as hilltop to hilltop. He argued that sacred sites would have sprung up along these tracks and later with the advent of Christianity churches would occupy such sites. It is interesting to note that many of these identified ley lines coincide with the notoriously straight Roman Roads which were built on existing trackways. Indeed some recent research points to a similar system of straight roads throughout the Celtic world which were in place prior to the Roman conquest. All these tracks seem to be linked to the solstice path of the Sun. Maybe a common religious belief allowed for these track ways to be maintained as they crossed different tribal boundaries and lands?

Perhaps the most famous British Ley line is the St Michael’s Leyline that starts at Lands’ End and links Glastonbury to Avebury. It follows the course of the sun on 8th May, celebrated as the Feast of St Michael by the Catholic Church. As stone circles could be used as astronomical tools and calendars it would follow that lines linking them would also follow some astronomical event.
St Michael Ley Line

It is perhaps due to skilful propaganda by Caesar and his successors that the image we have of the Celtic world is one of barbarian savagery and the druids as crazed priests with an unhealthy appetite for human sacrifice. Yet the reality may be very different as the Celts were a technologically advanced people. As well as fashioning jewellery of exquisite beauty they also invented mail armour, the Gallic helmet (which was adopted by the Romans), even the Roman word for chariot Carrum (from which we get car) was from the Gaulish word Karros. It has been mooted that European history would have been very different if the Celts had adopted the imperial outlook that the Romans did, but these were a people who prized the independence of their tribes and crucially did not have a tradition of writing. It should be noted however that the Celts were not megalith builders; which means that this system of tracks that they used may originate from around 7000 years ago.

So far all seems theoretically plausible, but what about the energy/spiritual aspect that ley lines are supposed to possess?

Folklore has it that houses in Ireland built on fairy paths will be cursed while in China there is the tradition of Feng Shui whereby the flow of dragon currents are utilised to promote harmony in a house or to encourage the fertility of fields. It may well be that this could be linked to the earth’s magnetic field in some way. With the advent of the 60s/70’s New Age movement, many ley hunters took to dowsing in an attempt to map out the Ley network.

But what if they are something else, perhaps a different, older form of human consciousness that is common to all cultures?

In middle and South America we have an indigenous culture that we have records of as it was still active up to 600 years ago before the arrival of the Conquistadors. Throughout the area there are arrow-straight roads, so called “spirit paths”.  If they change direction they do suddenly with a sharp angle, they have no curving bends. NASA satellite surveys have also found these roads in jungle areas, running straight through and over difficult terrain. The roads themselves sometimes link ancient cites and temples but also can terminate at caves or even cliff faces. Investigation pointed to these being “death roads” that is the dead would be transported along these roads for ceremonial burial in cemeteries. As well as being roads for the transport of mortal remains they were also supposed to be roads for the spirits of the departed toward the next world.

These can be compared to Bronze Age standing stone avenues in Europe linking burial mounds, and also even older earthen Neolithic roads called cursuses.  These can be viewed traversing crop fields from the air. Some of these “Death roads“  were used up until the Medieval period in Scandinavia and the Netherlands and are noted for their straightness.

If we return to the Americas and the high deserts of Peru we find the famous Nazca Lines. When we mention Nazca we think of the geoglyphs (ground drawings) of animals and birds marked out by stones on the desert floor, these are remarkable as the monumental scale of them is only truly apparent from the air. However, as well as the geoglyphs, there are lines both at Nazca and also in Bolivia and Chile. These lines are absolutely straight and can be 20 miles in length.

Nazca Geoglyph and lines

The purpose to the Nazca lines as long been the source of conjecture - but I think we can safely ignore the theory by Erich Von Daniken that they are landing strips for ancient astronauts! However in 1977 anthropologist  Marlene Dobkin de Rios theorised, which was later expanded by Paul Devereux and others,  that the whole landscape of lines and images may have a shamanistic origin. She noted that the areas where these lines were found coincided with where tribes used a certain hallucinogenic cactus used to obtain trance induced visions and experience a “spirit-flight”. There is a common imagery of entopic patterns that all humans see when in a trance-like state which can be seen in the cave art of Europe and Australia. The stylised animals of Nazca could be similar to cave paintings, but on a much grander scale, produced by an organised society.

So perhaps ley lines are indeed the means of navigation for both the living and the dead through a prehistoric landscape and have no magical power other than having originated from our shared human shamanistic past… but…

I keep thinking about coincidence again and so will return to St Michael’s ley line. Yes we know it follows the course of the Sun on St Michael’s Spring feast day on 8th May.  Not to be confused with Michaelmas in September, this date supposedly commemorates the apparition of the Archangel St Michael on Mount Gargano in southern Italy in the C6th, then on 8th May 100 years later in 663AD the invocation of St Michael ensured a victory by the Lombard defenders of Sipontum against besieging Byzantine forces. A shrine was built where the saint appeared and Pope Pius V made May 8th a feast Day in the C16th.

The Archangel St Michael holds a special position in Roman Catholic teachings; he is said to command God’s armies against Satan’s. According to the Book of Revelations it was Michael in his role as God’s general who defeated Lucifer, who had taken the form of a dragon, and cast him and his followers from heaven. St Michael is also said to carry the souls of the deceased to heaven and weigh the worthiness of each soul, offering the chance of redemption. Do we have an echo of spirit paths here or is it coincidence?

But there’s more, this ley line begins at Land’s End and intersects St Michaels Mount in Cornwall on its way to Avebury and beyond. Indeed the churches that this line intersects or passes closely to are all those dedicated to the Archangel, including the ruined church atop Glastonbury Tor and its smaller mirror image at Burrow Mump, both in Somerset. Coincidence, or is this the church imposing its authority over earthly powers by invoking God’s general?

Of course this is pseudoscience; the British countryside is full of sites of antiquity, after all. Draw a line anywhere and you are likely to be able to link any number of them. The number of churches dedicated to St Michael linked by it has to be mere coincidence, doesn’t it?

But here’s some fun; take a map of Europe and draw a line on a SE-NW axis between St Michael’s Mount on Cornwall and Mont St Michel in Normandy. Let’s now extend this line North West first and it barely touches Ireland but it hits a small island SE of it called Skellig Michael; famous for its remote monastery. There are three Michaels already, anyway lets extend SE and see what we can find. If we keep it going it runs down Italy and hits a certain Mount Gargano… the shrine built to commemorate the appearance of the saint. Of course it had to! If we continue SE we go through the Shrine of Delphi and on to Mount Carmel in Israel.  Some of the lower slopes form the hill called Har-Meggido, although you might know its better known name of Armageddon. Wasn’t the final battle between good vs Evil supposed to take place there? I wonder if St Michael is supposed to be involved?  

St Michael/Apollo Axis

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

P Devereux & I Thomson: The Ley Hunters Companion 1979
A Watkins : The Ley Hunters Manuel 1989
For further reading please visit: www.pauldevereux.co.uk 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sharon Reviews Wynfield's Kingdom

Today Sharon reviews Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums by M.J. Neary. The author has kindly offered an e-book copy as a giveaway. To be in with the chance of winning this amazing book, simply leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page. The draw will be made on 7th December. Good luck!!!

 A Tale of the London Slums Welcome to 1830s Bermondsey, London's most notorious slum, a land of gang wars, freak shows, and home to every depravity known to man. Dr. Thomas Grant, a disgraced physician, adopts Wynfield, a ten-year-old thief savagely battered by a gang leader for insubordination. The boy grows up to be a slender, idealistic opium addict who worships Victor Hugo. By day he steals and resells guns from a weapons factory. By night he amuses filthy crowds with his adolescent girlfriend—a fragile witch with wolfish eyes. Wynfield senses that he has a purpose outside of his rat-infested kingdom, but he never guesses that he had been selected at birth to topple the British aristocracy.

Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is one of those amazing books which makes you feel like you've discovered something really special. Set mainly in the slums of Bermondsey and Southwark in South London, it paints an image of Victorian London which will stay with you for days - and nights - afterwards. The novel is an amazing story of human existence and endurance, with so many twists and turns that it will not fail to surprise and mesmerise you. The fact you never quite know what the next chapter will bring keeps you hooked and curious to the very end.

Tom did not trust Diana. She might have been helpless but certainly not harmless. Feebleness and innocence are not synonyms. She was dangerous precisely because of her physical weakness. One could expect anything from her. Tom feared that she would torch the tavern out of sheer spite.
"She's your burden now," he told Wynfield. "I wash my hands. You brought her here, so you watch over her now. If she starts making trouble, I'll kick both of you out on the streets. I won't have any nonsense in my house. You both came here as patients. I allowed you to stay here and that alone was unwise on my part."
It was a pity that Tom renounced Diana so categorically. They shared one thing in common - profound mistrust for the human race. Had Tom exhibited a little more interest in her, he would have gained a loyal partner in misanthropy. He could have instructed her in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. They could have sat and ranted for hours about the evil nature of human beings and the futility of life. What a satisfying feast of pessimism it would have been! Yet Tom had denied himself this joy.
Being a fanatic for cleanliness, Tom made the children bathe once every three days, even during winter. He did it not because they were filthier than any human beings. He simply wanted to get that children's smell out of them. Tom insisted that all children had that peculiar smell about them. It was similar to that of wet sparrow feathers.

Thanks to Tom's persistence, Wynfield and Diana were the cleanest children in Bermondsey. Their clothes might have been threadbare, but their skin and hair always smelled of soap.
If Tom's feelings had ever evolved into anything remotely kin to paternal affection he hid it at all costs. The softer he felt, the sterner he spoke. The children communicated between each other in their own language of riddles and metaphors.
Tom did, however, allow the two children to take his surname.
"If anyone asks you what your surname is, just say Grant. With such things I'm not greedy, I won't be richer for poorer for that."
His surname was his gift to the children, along with the mattress, the blanket and the night lamp.

The story focuses on a totally dysfunctional family; a disgraced doctor and the two orphans he took in after they practically fell into his lap. They have a mutual indifference - and yet, also a mutual need - for each other. Dr Grant is a quiet, single, anti-social man who now runs a tavern and has a dog to which he shows no affection. He has deliberately turned his back on society, living an ascetic life among the unloved and forgotten. However, he is still a sympathetic character, all the more so because he has hidden his own feellings so deep that he is barely aware of their existence.

Wynfield is the star of the show; a young man of keen intelligence and a natural dramatic flare. While Diana is a waifish, almost ethereal young woman who is obsessed with Wynfield in a love-hate relationship which shapes their lives as they grow from children to young adults. They are a family with enough troubles, without the self-destructive effects of opium being thrown into the mix.
The characters are all too real; each is unique, with their own secrets and a future informed by their past. 

 As you read the story, you get the impression that you're a witness to a life that once existed, but is now lost in the sands of time. The interpersonal relationships, the sense of loss and of lives that had potential that was never realised - nor could ever be - leaves a lasting impression on the reader long after the book is finished.
MJ Neary weaves a spell over the story, the unique language style and attention to detail in this unique and enthralling novel. The slums of Southwark and Bermondsey are brought to life, the Victorian world recreated to the minutest detail. The reader feels themselves walking through the desperate, sad streets of South London; the despondence and desperation oozes through her words. The author has captured the desperation of the times; the changing political situation and the plight of those with nothing and no one.
 Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is more than just a book, its a glimpse into a life long lost and an experience that will invade your thoughts long after you've turned the last page. I can't wait to get stuck into Book 2: Wynfield's War. Thank goodness for a sequel!

About M.J. Neary:
An only child of classical musicians, M.J. Neary is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed expert on military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl. Notable achievements include a trilogy revolving the Anglo-Irish conflict - Martyrs & Traitors, Never Be at Peace and Big Hero of a Small Country. She continues to explore the topic of ethnic tension in her autobiographical satire Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy. Her latest release is a cyber mystery Trench Coat Pal set in Westport, CT at the dawn of the internet era. Colored with the same dark misanthropic humor as the rest of Neary’s works, Trench Coat Pal features a cast of delusional and forlorn New Englanders who become pawns in an impromptu revenge scheme devised by a self-proclaimed Robin Hood. A revised edition of Wynfield’s Kingdom, her debut Neo-Victorian thriller, was recently released through Crossroad Press. Wynfield’s War is the sequel following the volatile protagonist to the Crimea.
Wynfield's Kingdom is available on Amazon

The Reviewer: Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied it at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for almost 2 years and is currently working on her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines on the Medieval World' which will be published by Amberley in 2017.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Diana Talks to John Jackson

Hi John, thanks for talking to me today. I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

If your latest book was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
The latest (still to be published) book will be A Heart of Stone.
The Hero? (Arthur):       Jamie Bell
The Heroine? (Mary):    Emma Watson
The Villain? (Robert):    Hugh Lawrie

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Crime! (nothing specific plot-wise in mind yet)
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I always write at my table and in my favourite chair. The only routine as such is to clear all the other tasks out of the way first to give myself a clear couple of hours.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I am not saying!

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I've done my dream job! I was a ship's officer and captain in the last few years of the era where going to sea was still an exciting and romantic career.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Tea and Red

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Garamond 12pt.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The court documents relating to the case of Crim Com between Robert and Arthur Rochfort.

Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
None so far.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Yes – that's why it's called Fiction, but it has to be done with care, and for a deliberate reason.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Oh yes! We NEVER know exactly what or how, or even why "someone said something" We weren’t there, and history is written by the winner.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I think you have to, to get the best out of them. Just don't be indifferent to them.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Historical and contemporary fiction, especially books by my friends (all genres) because I can see them in their works.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Red wine – especially a Malbec from Cahors!

Last but not least... favourite historical author?
Georgette Heyer. Boring but true!

You can find John Jackson on his blog and Facebook

© Diana Milne July 2016 © John Jackson November 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Diana talks to ... Antoine Vanner


I was lucky enough to chat with Antoine over far too many olives at the HNS16 conference in September. What a charming man he is!  I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions...
        Antoine's latest book came out on 20th October and has received some wonderful reviews. You may buy the book here .

Alternatively, Antoine is very generously donating a copy of the book as a prize!!! To be in with a chance to win a paper copy of this book, please leave a comment here on the blog, or on our Review page.  The names will all go into the hat and the first one drawn on 27th November will be the winner!!

Q.   Antoine, if your latest book, Britannia’s Amazon, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

A.    You’re putting me in an embarrassing position here! Florence Dawlish is the wife of Royal Navy captain Nicholas Dawlish, who had played the lead in four previous books. Florence played major roles in two of them – Britannia’s Wolf and Britannia’s Shark – but now, in Britannia’s Amazon, set in 1882, she has a whole book to herself. She’s the type of woman I admire – clever, courageous, loyal, compassionate and resourceful. She is however not a beauty and she knows it. In Britannia’s Amazon, in which she has to adopt another persona, it was somehow disappointing when she saw her reflection in the wardrobe mirror and recognised that it had been so easy to transform herself into what she had so fortuitously escaped becoming, a frugally respectable working woman. For all Nicholas’s assurances, she knew that she was not beautiful – her face was too bony, her mouth was too large – and it was sobering to realise how it was prosperity alone that helped disguise the fact.”  With a description like that I suspect that I’d earn the undying enmity of any actress I’d name as suitable for the part. So I’m keeping my head down and am dodging this question!

Q.   If, as a one-off, you could write anything you want, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

A.    The time-demand would be beyond me but I’d enjoy researching and writing a narrative history about a single historical event or campaign of relatively short duration – rather in the style of the excellent James Holland. A few nights ago I watched the new movie “The Siege of Jadotville”, about an Irish Army unit on UN service which was plunged into a nightmarish Rorke’s Drift-type situation in Katanga in 1961. There’s been one book about it already but it represents the type of event I’d choose to write a book about if I could afford the time.

Q.   Do you have any rituals and routines in your writing? Your favourite cup, for example, or your favourite piece of music?

A.    Writing is only half the process – the other half is “living” scenes in my head, and for this afternoon walks with my dog Rufus are essential. I go back over what I’ve written in the morning – I sometimes get insights on how to improve it – and I think through, indeed feel through and live through, what will follow.  My characters are real to me and they get more real still as I visualise what they’ll say and do, and how they’ll feel, in the following scenes and chapters.

Q.   Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

A.    An astronaut! Even one orbit would be worth diamonds! I think that the saddest thing about our mortality is that we don’t know exactly where the future will take Humanity. I’m pretty sure however that it’s going to take us beyond Earth – how far, I can’t imagine – and I’d love to be on the front line in this.

Q.   Coffee or tea, red or white?

A.    For anybody with Dutch connections it can only be coffee – and black!

(I love that answer!)

Q.   Imagine you could get hold of any source document. What would it be?

A.    I’m fascinated by the geometric progression in numbers of ancestors as we work backwards through time. Assuming three generations per century, we each had 512 ancestors three centuries ago – though I guess the actual number may have been considerably less as a fair number of them might have been ancestors through different descendants. There must have been a lot of distant cousins marrying distant cousins a few generations further on. But it’s impossible to visualise the probably very disparate lives of so many eight-times grandparents who were alive in the time of Marlborough, Peter the Great, Louis XIV. I’d love to get my hands on even one document that could give me an insight on how those people lived and loved, what joys and sorrows they knew, what perceptions they had of the world, what passions and concerns and ideals motivated them, what expectations they might have had of the future.

Q.   Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any real characters you have been tempted to kill off prematurely or ignore just because you don’t like them, or they spoil the plot?

A.    Historical figures are opportunities – and in some cases are catalysts for the plot. When they’re introduced they’ve got to act in character, even if the incidents they’re involved with are fictional. I prefer to keep my plots within the framework of actual events so killing off a real character would destroy this – it would indeed be an instance of “the butterfly effect” changing history. That isn’t to say that there aren’t real-life figures in my books whom I’d like to have seen come to more unpleasant ends than they did – or indeed whom I’d like not to have been born in the first place. The example that comes to mind is the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid II –– who plays an important role in Britannia’s Wolf. But I’ve had to leave him to live out his long shameful life and be remembered with loathing today as “Abdul the Damned”.

Q.   Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around that?

A.    This relates to some extent to the previous question. All “Historical Fiction” is to some “Alternative History” and there’s some point of departure from what really happened. The story develops from that point. In my books the plots fit into real-life timelines, especially in Britannia’s Wolf and Britannia’s Spartan in which much of the action is integrated with what really did happen on a day-by-day basis. Where historical fiction such as my own differs from the best alternative history fiction is that by the end of my books we’re back in the world as it really was and subsequent history has not been changed.
Q.   Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of our characters?

A.    I’m definitely in love with Florence Dawlish – what man wouldn’t be? But I’ve also got a sneaking liking for some of my shades-of-grey villains: Silas Culbertson, the ruthless, cunning and brutal ex-Confederate colonel who is also courageous; Fred Kung, the Chinese power-broker who was mutilated during construction of the Central Pacific railroad through the Sierra Nevada and who made a fortune thereafter through shipping corpses back to China; Shimazu Hirosato, a captain of the Japanese Navy who is cruel and pitiless, but is unswerving in his dedication to his Samurai code of honour. And I can’t but love a character who was in fact a real-life one: Adam Worth, a.k.a. Henry Raymond, who was described by Scotland Yard as “The Napoleon of Crime” and who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’ adversary, Professor Moriarty. He was a key player in Britannia’s Shark and Florence encounters him again in the new novel, Britannia’s Amazon.
Q.   What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

A.    I love narrative history and we’re in somewhat of a golden age of it. The late Shelby Foote’s superb The Civil War would be my desert-island book and more recently James D. Hornfischer, Nathaniel Philbrick and Hampton Sides in the United States, and James Holland, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Tom Holland in Britain, have been setting a very high standard. I can’t recommend these authors highly enough.

Q.   Last but not least … who is your favourite historical author?

A.    Without hesitation – ZoĆ« Oldenbourg. I know of no other author who has entered into the minds of people whose values and outlook – and world – were so different to our own, and who makes them come alive so movingly and so convincingly. Her masterpiece, Destiny of Fire, is almost unbearably painful to read but it says so much about what is truly valuable in Humanity that I’ve returned to it again and again over the last forty years. It has had a massive effect on my own values and outlook – literally a life-changing book.  Oldenbourg’s histories have the same quality of bringing lost societies poignantly alive.

Antoine and Rufus.

A potted biography: Antoine Vanner writes historical naval fiction. He found himself flattered when nautical novelist Joan Druett described him as the "The Tom Clancy of historic naval fiction".
He says: "I find the late Victorian era, roughly 1870 to 1900, fascinating because for my baby-boomer generation it's 'the day before yesterday'. It's history that you can almost touch. Our grandparents grew up in that period and you heard a lot from them about it. So much in that time was so similar to what we still have today that you feel you could live easily in it, and then you hit some aspects - especially those associated with social conventions and attitudes - that make it seem wholly alien. It was a time of change on every front - intellectual, scientific, medical, social, political and technological - and yet people seem to have accommodated to these rapid changes very well."
He had had an adventurous life in international business and also travelled extensively on a private basis. He survived military coups, guerrilla warfare, a militia attack, storms at sea and life in mangrove swamps, tropical forest, offshore platforms and the boardroom. Antoine’s knowledge of human nature, passion for nineteenth-century political and military history   and first-hand experience of their locales provide the background to his historical novels centred on the lives of Royal Navy officer Nicholas Dawlish and his wife Florence. The five volumes published so far are all linked to actual historical events and are set in locales as various as the Black Sea and the Balkans in winter, a river-system in the heart of South America, the luxury and squalor of the United States' Gilded Age, Cuba in revolt, Korea as it emerges from centuries of isolation and - not the least deadly - the corrupt and brutal underside of the complacent and outwardly respectable society of Late-Victorian Britain
To see a video of Antoine talking about his latest book and the challenges it presented click here
Britannia’s Amazon: http://amzn.to/2eZurBM
Interview with Antoine Vanner: http://bit.ly/2fEMzm3
Blog Link:  http://bit.ly/15f20oy
Fade out as required!

Diana Milne & Antoine Vanner © November 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sharon Reviews Scars from the Past by Derek Birks

The author is giving away a signed paperback (for a UK winner) or an ebook (for an international winner) of Scars from the Past to one lucky winner. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous novel, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
The prizedraw will be held on 24th November 2016.
Good luck!

 By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years.
The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all.
Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? And close to home in Ludlow, trouble is stirring.

Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and flees the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.

In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must face a deadly storm of blood and chaos. When the young heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the future appears bleak.
Only if the Elders can put the scars from the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks' new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV's battle to win - and hold - the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned's son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father's legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from.
The storyline and character development of Scars From the Past lives up to the high standard that fans have come to expect from Derek Birks. Each character has his - or her - own unique traits and characteristics and the novel is as much about a study in personalities as it is about the plotline and constant action.

"The Elder estates include more than just the two manors you know of."
"How? What are you saying?"
"There are ten manors in all, six of them granted to the estate after Tewkesbury, for Ned's services to the king that year."
"Ten manors!" cried Eleanor. "How did I not know this?"
Maighread smiled a crooked smile. "When did you ever want to know about the estates, Ellie? George Spearbold manages it all for us - I only know because someone had to ... I wanted to keep Ned's family here together, but that dream has gone away now with John and Will. So, perhaps it's time for you and I to lead our families along separate paths."
"Who else knows about the lands? My sister, Emma?"
"No, but her husband does."
"Of course," muttered Eleanor bitterly.
"He only knows about the three northern manors, from which Emma gets her income - just as you, without knowing it, have received income from another three manors. All the land remains as part of the Elder estates. In John's absence, you can choose where you wish to go: north or south; near or far. Spearbold can tell you which manors provide your income and where they lie. Then you can decide where to go."
"Just like that," said Eleanor, "after all these years. I thought I was the only one with secrets."
"Well, sister, we all have our secrets, it seems, even John. How unhappy he must have been to leave us as he did."
Eleanor nodded. "You're right. As always, you see these things more clearly than I do. And it's true that I'm restless. Perhaps it is time for me to go. I'll see Spearbold and make the arrangements. Give me a day or two."
"Two days! My dear, I didn't mean to drive you off quite so fast!" said Maighread.
"You know me, sister - strike hard and fast and to hell with the consequences," said Eleanor. "And, if I'm to track down my nephew and son then I'll have to move fast. Too much time has passed already. Oh, and I think Lizzie Holton should come with me - at least for a while."
"Why? She should be with her mother."
"Elias Slade is a threat to us both, but especially to Lizzie. If neither of us is here, there is less danger for the rest of you."
"I suppose, but only for a few weeks, mind. I'll speak to her mother." Maighread took Eleanor's hands in hers. "It will seem strange not to have you here."
"I'll survive, Maighread," said Eleanor, "as always."

One characteristic I always loved about the Rebels & Brothers series was that the women were not all crying, panicking ladies who would scream if they broke a nail. Heroines like Eleanor and Maighread would fight just as hard as the men, for their loved ones. I need not have been concerned that that trait would not carry over into this series. Eleanor is still there, fighting the only way she knows how. But she is joined by numerous other female characters; not all physical fighters, but each is strong and independent in their own, unique ways. The author proves that war is not the reserve of men; that women have their own battles to fight.
Where the story is more personal for the heroes, so it is for the villains. Elias Slade is a nasty piece of work, his personal feud with John turns into a vendetta against the wider Elder family. He is truly despicable!
As usual, the author's dedication to research shines through. His description of the town of Ludlow is so in-depth that you imagine yourself walking the streets with John Elder, becoming aware of all the little passages, nooks and crannies that only a local - or dedicated novelist would know. The locations are wonderfully vivid, whether in Burgundy or Ludlow, in a castle or bath house, the author has the unique ability to transport you there.

Derek Birks has a way of invoking all your senses and emotions when reading his books. The action keeps you on the edge of your seat; but there is an emotional aspect too. These people are all-too- human, subject to insecurity, rash actions and incredible heroism and you feel every emotion as you join their journey. Fans of the Rebels & Brothers series have come to expect a certain standard of action and realism, combined with a credible, fast-paced storyline. And they won't be disappointed. Derek Birks has taken his usual high-standard of story-telling to a whole new level.
Scars From the Past is impossible to put down - I lost a couple of afternoons of work in my desperation to finish it. The beauty of the novel is that it continues the Elder's story, but you don't have to have read the previous series to totally immerse yourself in this new story (though I defy you to enjoy this book and not want to go back to Feud, where it all started). Although it is part of a series, the novel passes as a standalone story, the climax will leave you breathless and satisfied - and wanting more.

Luckily it is not the last we'll hear from Derek Birks and the Elder family, and I can't wait for Book 2!

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties.  For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing.
Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa. Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.  The sequel to Feud, A Traitor's Fate, was published in November 2013 and Book 3, Kingdom of Rebels, was released on August 31st 2014.
The final book in the series, The Last Shroud, was published on 31st August 2015.
 Scars From the Past will be released on November 24th, 2016, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied it at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for almost 2 years and is currently working on her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines on the Medieval World' which will be published by Amberley in 2017.